Women Veterans Services
From the WACs, WAVEs, SPARs, WASPs, BAMs of World War II to the modern citizen soldier serving next to service men in combat situations, women play an important part in America’s modern military. Consisting of approximately 15-percent of 2012’s active duty armed forces and 20-percent of reserve forces, these women come out of military service with distinctive and unique needs that may not be met with current Veterans Affairs (VA) services, particularly in the medical arena.
Historically, the military service has been part-and-parcel a male endeavor, and the services available to veterans have reflected this. However, with women entering the armed services in increasing percentages, there are currently about two million women veterans, the fastest growing group tract by the VA.
Issues regarding VA medical care and female veterans include inequalities in services between male and female patients; lack of consistency in services to those who have experienced a sexual assault; lack of provider knowledge in gender-specific medical and psychological care; and lack of awareness of services and service advocacy for female veterans, just to name a few. Additionally, female veterans access other VA benefits such as employment training and education in far fewer numbers than male veterans.
The VA has been and continues to actively try to remedy this situation. In 2012, the Women’s Health Care Services Office became the “go to” point for female veterans, bringing together primary care, specialty care, and mental health under one umbrella for better collaboration, communication, and service delivery. (This reorganization builds on the blocks set in place by the 1988 Women’s Veterans Health Care Program.)
The 2012 Women Veterans Task Force Report outlined several areas the VA has improved on, including but not limited to:
- More women accessing services;
- A higher percentage of patients, compared to their civilian counterparts, that receiving regular breast and cervical cancer screenings;
- The development of the Military Sexual Trauma Support Team; and
- The creation of Women Veteran’s Coordinators to provide outreach and advocacy.
However, they report there are still multiple issues needing to be resolved.
- Continuing gender-based gaps in service and care;
- Significant lack of female veterans applying headstone or marker burial benefits;
- Homeless outreach, programs, and resources are almost all male-oriented;
- The need to develop access to child-care services; and
- There is still a disparity between the percentages of male veterans that access overall services versus female veterans.
If you are a female veteran, first and foremost you must become your own best advocate. After enrolling for your veterans’ benefits, find your region’s Women’s Veterans Coordinator (WVC) to answer any questions and to help guide you through the medical system. (Find your region here; from that link you can discover where medical services are provided and from there which center and/or clinic have a WVC.) Don’t forget that the VA goes beyond medical care and administering G.I. Bill benefits; check here to discover more about life insurance, home loans, vocational rehabilitation, and other programs available to eligible veterans.
Improvements in the VA benefits system for female veterans, medical and otherwise, will improve the VA system for all veterans. The need for childcare access and resources, while stereotypically considered to be a woman’s issue, is needed by both parents, male and female. Improved public relations and communications, while targeting women, will also make more men to be aware of and use their benefits. A healthier, better trained, and better educated veteran demographic will help improve the economy.
Most of all, they’ve earned it. Men and women alike.